THE NEW YORK TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER
THE SUNDAY TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER
SHORTLISTED FOR THE WELLCOME BOOK PRIZE 2017
'Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option...Unmissable' New York Times
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, the next he was a patient struggling to live.
When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a medical student asking what makes a virtuous and meaningful life into a neurosurgeon working in the core of human identity – the brain – and finally into a patient and a new father.
What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when when life is catastrophically interrupted? What does it mean to have a child as your own life fades away?
Paul Kalanithi died while working on this profoundly moving book, yet his words live on as a guide to us all. When Breath Becomes Air is a life-affirming reflection on facing our mortality and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a gifted writer who became both.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Just as he was poised to reap the benefits of his punishing training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His story is a punch to the gut: a powerful reminder that life is something that happens moment to moment and that “the future” isn’t something we can plan out. Beautifully written, thought-provoking, sob-inducing, When Breath Becomes Air is also a fascinating exploration of the relationship between doctor and patient and the heavy moral responsibilities of the medical professions. By the time we got to Lucy Kalanithi’s epilogue—a love letter to her dead husband and infant daughter—our heart was bursting with sadness but also gratitude.
Author and physician Kalanithi had nearly completed his residency in neurosurgery at Stanford when he was diagnosed with Stage lV lung cancer at the age of 36. Despite the stubborn progression of his disease, Kalanithi was able to write, work, and delve into a number of profound issues before the end of his life, documented here (his wife provides the epilogue). As a youth in Arizona, Kalanithi was unsure whether he wanted to pursue medicine, as his father did, or if literature and writing were his calling. This inspiring memoir makes it clear that he excelled at both. Kalanithi shares his career struggles, bringing readers into his studies at Yale (including cadaver dissection), the relentless demands of neurosurgery, and the life-and-death decisions and medical puzzles that must be solved. After he begins cancer treatment, Kalanithi strives to define his dual role as physician and patient, and he weighs in on such topics as what makes life meaningful and how one determines what is most important when little time is left. He also shares the challenges of colleagues: an oncologist who walks a tightrope between hope and honest reality; a fellow doctor who commits suicide after losing a patient; Kalanithi's wife, also a doctor, bearing witness to her husband's decline even as she gives birth to their child. This deeply moving memoir reveals how much can be achieved through service and gratitude when a life is courageously and resiliently lived.